Aretha Franklin Died Without a Will, Leaving Her Family to Deal with Court and Conflict

Aretha Franklin, heralded as the “Queen of Soul,” died from pancreatic cancer at age 76 on August 16th at her home in Detroit. Like Prince, who died in 2016, Franklin was one of the greatest musicians of our time. Also like Prince, however, she died without a will or trust to pass on her multimillion-dollar estate.

Franklin’s lack of estate planning was a huge mistake that will undoubtedly lead to lengthy court battles and major expenses for her family. What’s especially unfortunate is that all of this trouble could have been easily prevented.

A common mistake
Such lack of estate planning is common. A 2017 poll by the senior-care referral service, Caring.com, revealed that more than 60 percent of U.S. adults currently do not have a will or trust in place. The most common excuse given for not creating these documents was simply “not getting around to it.”

Whether or not Franklin’s case involved similar procrastination is unclear, but what is clear is that her estimated $80-million estate will now have to go through the often lengthy court process known as probate, her assets will be made public, and there could be a big battle brewing for her family.

Probate problems
Because Franklin was unmarried and died without a will, Michigan law stipulates that her assets are to be equally divided among her four adult children, one of whom has special needs and will need financial support for the rest of his life. It’s likely that caregivers for her son will need to decide whether to accept the inheritance coming to him and lose all governmental support he may’ve been able to receive, or they may have to disclaim all of the inheritance from his mother’s estate. 

 It’s also possible that probate proceedings could last for years due to the size of her estate. And all court proceedings will be public, including any disputes that arise along the way.

Such contentious court disputes are common with famous musicians. In Prince’s case, his estate has been subject to numerous family disputes since he died two years ago, and that even led to the revocation of a multimillion-dollar music contract. The same thing could happen to Franklin’s estate, as high-profile performers often have complex assets, like music rights.

Because these court battles will be public, not only will the contents of  Franklin’s estate be available for everyone to see, but her family’s potential squabbles will likely be the subject of news headlines. All of these things could’ve been prevented with a well-drafted and counseled estate plan.

 Learn from Franklin’s mistakes
Although Franklin’s situation is unfortunate, you can learn from her mistakes by beginning the estate planning process now. It would’ve been ideal if Franklin had a will, but even with a will, her estate would still be subject to probate and open to the public. To keep everything private and out of court altogether, Franklin could’ve created a will and a trust. And, within a trust, she could have created a Special Needs Trust for her child who has special needs, thereby giving him full access to governmental support, plus supplemental support from her assets.

While trusts used to be available only to the mega wealthy, they’re now used by people of all incomes and asset values. Unlike wills, trusts keep your family out of the probate court, which can save both time, money, and a huge amount of heartache. Plus, a properly funded trust (meaning all of your assets are titled in the name of the trust) keeps everything totally private.

 Trusts also offer several protections for your assets and family that wills alone don’t. With a trust, for example, it’s possible to shield the inheritance you’re leaving behind from the creditors of your heirs or even a future divorce.

Moreover, trusts also offer protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. Using a trust, you can appoint someone of your choosing (not the court’s) to handle your financials if you’re unable to. With only a will in place, your family would have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time-consuming, and stressful.

 Finally, if you have a child with special needs like Franklin did, a Special Needs Trust can prevent your child from losing eligibility for important government benefits, like Medicaid and Social Security. A Special Needs Trust—also not subject to probate—allows you to contribute funds for your child’s care without disqualifying them for these benefits.

Don’t wait another day
Regardless of your financial status, planning for incapacity or your eventual death is something that you should immediately address, especially if you have children. You never know when tragedy may strike, and by being properly prepared, you can save both yourself and your family massive expense and trauma.

Don’t follow in Franklin’s footsteps; use her death as a learning experience. Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®. If you already have a plan in place, we can review it to ensure it’s effective and up-to-date. Contact us today for more information—we promise to make it easy.

This article is a service of Emily Hicks, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Do Your Homework to Make Sure Your Kids are Properly Cared For No Matter What

The kids are back in school again, and when it comes to estate planning you may have homework to do. As a parent, your most critical—and often overlooked—task is to select and legally document guardians for your minor children. Guardians are people legally named to care for your children in the event of your death or incapacity.

If you haven’t done that yet, you should immediately do so using our easy-to-use (and absolutely free) website, where you can create legal documents naming the long-term guardians you’d want to care for your children if you could not: https://jax.kidsprotectionplan.com

 

Don’t think just because you’ve named godparents or have grandparents living nearby that’s enough. You must name guardians in a legal document, or risk creating conflict and a long, expensive court process for your loved ones—and this can be so easily avoided.

 

Covering all your bases
However, naming permanent guardians is just one step in protecting your kids. It’s equally important to have someone (plus backups) with documented authority, who can stay with your children until the long-term guardians can be located and formally named by the court, which can take months.

 

The last thing you want is for police to show up at your home and find your children with a caregiver, who doesn’t have documented or legal authority to stay with them and doesn’t have any idea how to contact someone with such authority. In such a case, police would have no choice but to call Child Protective Services.

Closing the gap
This is a major hole in many parent’s estate plans, as we know you’d never want your kids in the care of strangers, even for a short time. To fix this, we’ve created a comprehensive system called the Kids Protection Plan®, which lets you name temporary guardians who have immediate documented authority to care for your children until the long-term guardians you ‘ve appointed can be notified and get to your children.

The Kids Protection Plan® also includes specific instructions that are given to everyone entrusted with your children’s care, explaining how to contact your short and long-term guardians. The plan also ensures everyone named by you has the legal documents they’d need on hand and knows exactly what to do if called upon. We even provide you with an ID card for your wallet and emergency instructions to post on your refrigerator, so the contacts and process are prominently available in case something happens to you.

A foolproof plan
With the Kids Protection Plan®, you’ll name one permanent guardian and one temporary guardian, along with two or more backups, in case the primary isn’t available or cannot serve. And we instruct caregivers to NEVER CALL POLICE IF YOU CANNOT BE REACHED UNTIL ONE OF THE NAMED GUARDIANS ARRIVES AND IS PRESENT WITH YOUR CHILDREN.

Finally, if there’s anyone you’d never want raising your children, we confidentially document that in the plan, preventing them from wasting the time, energy, and assets of the people you do want caring for your children.

With us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you have access to the entire Kids Protection Plan® system to ensure the well-being of your children no matter what. As your kids head back to school, do your homework by contacting us today.

This article is a service of Emily Hicks, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Squabbles between Alan Thicke's Heirs Highlight the Importance of Properly Drafted and Updated Estate Plan

In the 1980s, the late actor Alan Thicke played the wise-but-hip father figure and psychiatrist Dr. Jason Seaver in the sitcom Growing Pains. Following Alan’s sudden death in December 2016, with his children and widow battling over his estate, one can only wonder what sage advice Dr. Seaver would have had for Thicke’s heirs.

Alan collapsed and died from a heart attack at age 69, while playing ice hockey with his youngest son, Carter. Unlike some celebrities, he had a fairly comprehensive estate plan. But with three marriages, three sons from two of those unions, and an estate worth an estimated $40 million, the planning is proving insufficient to stave off family feuding.


Stepmom vs. Stepchildren
Specifically, Alan’s two oldest sons—Robin and Brennan—have been fighting his third wife, Tanya Callau Thicke, for almost two years. The first petition filed in California Superior Court in May 2016 by Robin and Brennan—who are co-trustees of their late father’s estate—sought clarification of conflicting terms in Alan’s living trust and a prenuptial agreement he and Tanya signed before getting married in 2005.

At issue was the division of Alan’s $3.5 million ranch in Carpinteria, where he and Tanya lived. The prenup states that Tanya would get 25% of his net estate, including a five-acre parcel of the ranch property. However, the trust—last updated in 2016—doesn’t grant her any ownership of the ranch, only the right to live there provided she pays all of the expenses.

Robin and Brennan’s petition alleged that Tanya demanded a larger portion of Alan’s estate than she was allocated in the trust and that she planned to contest the validity of the prenuptial agreement.

Tanya claimed her stepsons’ legal claim was merely aimed at smearing her in the media, and she never had any intention of challenging the prenup. Other reports allege the petition was retaliation for Tanya’s refusal to allow the brothers to convert the ranch into a medical marijuana farm.

In September 2017, a judge rejected the sibling’s petition to block Tanya from challenging the prenup, finding there was no evidence she ever planned to take such action.

 A Breach of Duties?
More recently in May 2018, Tanya filed papers accusing Robin and Brennan of violating their fiduciary duties as co-trustees. She claims they’re spending the estate assets recklessly, failing to pay her share of the inheritance, unfairly saddling her with taxes and other expenses that are not her responsibility, and failing to keep her clearly informed about estate proceedings.

One of her specific complaints asserts the brothers refused to reimburse her for a monument she placed at Alan’s gravesite. This claim was exacerbated by reports that the older brother Robin was reimbursed $105,000 for an elaborate memorial party he threw the night before his father’s burial.

Tanya plans to file a lawsuit against the siblings if they don’t meet her demands. And her suit may have merit, as trustees owe a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of beneficiaries and account for all financial transactions related to the trust.

Lessons Learned
Though we’ll have to wait and see how Robin and Brennan react to Tanya’s latest claim and how the court rules, the case highlights several important estate planning issues.

First, second (or more) marriages with children from a prior marriage are always at risk of going down the road of conflict. If you are in such a marriage, it’s critical we plan in advance to ensure the people you love have the best chance of loving each other after your incapacity or death.

Even with a trust in place, it’s vital the document is regularly updated to ensure it’s current and doesn’t conflict with other legal agreements, like the prenup in this case. Please contact us now if your plan has not been reviewed or updated within the past year.

Finally, the case demonstrates that a trust won’t stay private if the heirs have a conflict that results in court proceedings. One of a trust’s key benefits is that it keeps the contents of the estate confidential. But if a dispute ends up in court, the estate documents can be made public, exposing not only your assets, but all of your family’s “dirty laundry” as well.

Proper estate planning can keep your family out of conflict, out of court, and out of the public eye. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, contact us to get started. If you already have a plan in place, we can review and update it to avoid similar conflicts.

 

6 Steps to Name the Right Legal Guardians for Your Children - Part 2

Last time, we shared the first part of our series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your children. Here in part two, we discuss the final three steps in the process.

4. Narrow candidate list, and rank your choices

When you’ve come up with all of the potential candidates for guardian, narrow down the list to your top five people. There’s no guarantee that your ideal candidate(s) will be willing to serve as guardian, so having more than one or two is a practical necessity.

To aide in this process, you should consider things, such as who really loves your children and who do your kids really get along with? Will this person be physically, mentally, and emotionally able to raise your kids to adulthood? The most important thing is to choose SOMEONE, even if you aren’t 100% sure about them, since you can always select a new guardian later.

Then rank your choices from top choice down to last. Again, backups are critical in case your first choice cannot serve.

5. Sit down with top candidates and discuss what’s involved

When it comes to asking someone to be your child’s guardian, you need to provide crystal-clear guidance about what’s involved. The discussion should cover all of your expectations about how you want your kids raised. Speak openly about finances, discipline, education, spirituality, and any needs that are unique to your children.

Once the discussion is complete, give them a few days to carefully consider the choice, even if they seem immediately gung-ho about doing it. Depending on the age of your kids, this could be a more than decade-long commitment. If they don’t carefully think it over, the responsibility can easily turn into resentment.

6. Legally document your plan

It’s essential to legally document your choice as soon as possible. Verbal commitments mean nothing in the eyes of the law. This is especially true when you name a friend over a family member.

For a quick and easy way to legally document your plan, visit our free website shown below. The entire process takes only 15-20 minutes, so you can immediately get this urgent matter taken care of.

⇒ Visit our website to go through these steps and create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: https://jax.kidsprotectionplan.com

After you’ve used our website to name your legal guardians, we can work together to create a more comprehensive plan that includes all of the necessary legal documents to ensure the well-being of your children and the assets you’re leaving behind, no matter what happens.

 

With us, you’ll have a trusted advisor who can help you navigate all of the legal, insurance, financial, and tax issues involved with estate planning. Indeed, we can put a plan in place that not only protects and provides for your children, but your entire family.
 

6 Steps to Name the Right Legal Guardians for Your Kids - Part One

One of your most important responsibilities as a parent is to select and legally document guardians for your children. This doesn’t mean just naming godparents or trusting the grandparents will step in if necessary. It means consciously deciding who would raise your children if you cannot. And then it means legally documenting your choices and making sure the people you’ve chosen know what to do if they’re ever called upon.

However, most people have no idea how to even start this process, much less create a legally binding plan. Because of this, many parents simply never get around to doing it. And those who do often make one of several common mistakes—even if they’ve worked with a lawyer.

Why? Because most lawyers haven’t been trained properly to help parents with this vital issue.

As a result, unless you’ve worked with us or another trained Personal Family Lawyer®, it’s likely your children are extremely vulnerable to being taken out of your home and placed in the care of strangers. This might be temporary, while the authorities figure out what to do, or they could end up being raised to adulthood by someone you’d never choose.

Even if you don’t have any minor children at home, please consider sharing this article with any friends or family who do—it’s that important. While it’s rare for something to happen to both parents of a minor child, it does occur, and the consequences are simply too severe to not take a few simple steps to select and legally name guardians the right way.

To help with this process, we’ve outlined some basic steps to select and name a legal guardian. Regardless of whether you own any other assets or wealth, it’s vital to complete this process immediately, so you know that who you care about most—your kids—will be cared for the way you want, no matter what.

 ⇒ We’ve even created an easy-to-use website, where you can go through these steps to create legal documents naming guardians for the long-term care of your children, absolutely free. Do it here now: https://jax.kidsprotectionplan.com

 1.  Define your ideal candidate

The first step in selecting a guardian is to come up with a list outlining the qualities and attributes you and your partner value most when it comes to the long-term care of your children. The list can mirror your own parenting philosophy and style, as well as list the qualities that would make up your absolute “dream” guardian.

In addition to qualities like parental values, discipline style, religious/spiritual background, kindness, and honesty, you also need to consider more practical matters. Is the person young enough and physically capable of raising your kids to adulthood? Do they have a family of their own, and if so, would adding your kids to the mix be too much?

Geography should also come into play—do they live nearby, and if not, would it be a major hardship to relocate your children? Is their home in a location you would feel comfortable having your kids grow up in?

One thing you may think you should consider is financial stability, and that’s a frequent misconception. However, the people you name as legal guardians for your children are the people making decisions for their healthcare and their education, but they don’t need to be the ones managing your children’s financial needs.

Ideally, you’ll leave behind ample financial resources for your children and the people raising them. You can do this by establishing a trust for those resources and naming a financial guardian, or trustee, to oversee them. Please contact us for help with that, as there are many options to consider.

2. Make a list of candidates

Based on those parenting qualities, start compiling a list of people in your life who match your ideals. Be sure to consider not only family, but also close friends.

Though you may feel obligated to choose a family member, this decision is about what’s best for your children’s future, not trying to protect someone’s feelings. And if you’re having trouble coming up with enough suitable candidates, try coming up with people who you would definitely NOT want as guardians, and work backwards from there.

Or consider the person a judge would likely select if you didn’t make your own choice and whether there are any other people you’d prefer to raise your children.

3. Select first responders (temporary guardians)
In addition to legally naming long-term guardians, you also need to choose someone in your local area to be a “first responder,” or temporary guardian. This is someone who lives near you and who’s willing to immediately go to your children during a time of crisis and take care of them until the long-term guardian is notified and appointed by the court pursuant to your long-term guardianship nomination.

If your children are in the care of someone like a babysitter without legal authority to have custody of them, the police will have no choice but to call Child Protective Services and take your children into the care of the authorities. From there, you children could be placed in the care of strangers until your named long-term guardian shows up, or until the court decides on an appropriate guardian.

This is an area where plans that only name a legal guardian through a Will typically fail. Beyond naming just a long-term guardian, you need a short-term, temporary guardian who’s named as the first responder and knows exactly what to do if something happens to you.

Once you’ve chosen your long-term guardian, it’s imperative that all temporary caretakers know exactly how to contact them. This precaution is not just about your death—it also covers your incapacity and any other situation when you’re unable to return home for a lengthy period of time.

Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series on selecting and naming the right guardians for your kids.

We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

What's the Difference Between a Will and a Trust?

When discussing estate planning, a will is what most people think of first. Indeed, wills have been the most popular method for passing on assets to heirs for hundreds of years. But wills aren’t your only option. And if you rely on a will alone to pass on what matters, you’re guaranteeing your family has to go to court when you die. 

In contrast, other estate planning vehicles, such as trusts, which used to be available only to the uber wealthy, are now being used by those of all income levels and asset values to keep their loved ones out of the court process.  But determining whether a will or a trust is best for you depends entirely on your personal circumstances. And the fact that estate planning has changed so much makes choosing the right tool for the job even more complex. 

The best way for you to determine the truly right solution for your family is to meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® for a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During that process, we’ll take you through an analysis of your personal assets, what’s most important to you, and what will happen for your loved ones when you become incapacitated or die. From there, you can make the right choice for the people you love.

In the meantime, here are some key distinctions between wills and trusts you should be aware of.

When they take effect
A will only goes into effect when you die, while a trust takes effect as soon as it’s signed and your assets are transferred into the name of the trust. To this end, a will directs who will receive your property at your death, and a trust specifies how your property will be distributed before your death, at your death, or at a specified time after death. This is what keeps your family out of court in the event of your incapacity or death.

Because a will only goes into effect when you die, it offers no protection if you become incapacitated and are no longer able to make decisions about your financial and healthcare needs. If you do become incapacitated, your family will have to petition the court to appoint a conservator or guardian to handle your affairs, which can be costly, time consuming, and stressful.

With a trust, however, you can include provisions that appoint someone of your choosing—not the court’s—to handle your medical and financial decisions if you’re unable to. This keeps your family out of court, which can be particularly vital during emergencies, when decisions need to be made quickly.

The property they cover
A will covers any property solely owned in your name. A will does not cover property co-owned by you with others listed as joint tenants, nor does your will cover assets that pass directly to a beneficiary by contract, such as life insurance.

Trusts, on the other hand, cover property that has been transferred, or “funded,” to the trust or where the trust is the named beneficiary of an account or policy. That said, if an asset hasn’t been properly funded to the trust, it won’t be covered, so it’s critical to work with us to ensure the trust is properly funded.

Unfortunately, many lawyers and law firms set up trusts, but don’t then ensure your assets are properly re-titled or beneficiary designated, and the trust doesn’t work when your family needs it. We have systems in place to ensure that transferring assets to your trust and making sure they are properly owned at the time of your incapacity or death happens with ease and convenience. 

How they’re administered
In order for assets in a will to be transferred to a beneficiary, the will must pass through the court process called probate. The court oversees the will’s administration in probate, ensuring your property is distributed according to your wishes, with automatic supervision to handle any disputes. 

Because probate is a public proceeding, your will becomes part of the public record upon your death, allowing everyone to see the contents of your estate, who your beneficiaries are, and what they’ll receive. 

Unlike wills, trusts don’t require your family to go through probate, which can save both time and money. And since the trust doesn’t pass through court, all of its contents remain private.

How much they cost
Wills and trusts do differ in cost—not only when they’re created, but also when they’re used. The average will-based plan can run between $500-$2000, depending on the options selected.  An average trust-based plan can be set up for $3,000-$5,000, again depending on the options chosen. So at least on the front end, wills are far less expensive than trusts.
However, wills must go through probate, where attorney fees and court costs can be quite hefty, especially if the will is contested. Given this, the total cost of executing the will through probate can run as high as $8,000-$10,000 or more.

Even though a trust may cost more upfront to create than a will, the total costs once probate is factored in can actually make a trust the less expensive option in the long run.  If you're planning with us, we’ll compare the costs of will-based planning and trust-based planning with you, so you know exactly what you want and why, as well as the total costs and benefits over the long-term. 

If you're unsure what your needs may be, we are happy to help and offer expert advice on wills, trusts, and numerous other estate planning vehicles. Using proprietary systems, such as our Family Wealth Inventory and Assessment™ and Family Wealth Planning Session™, we’ll carefully analyze your assets—both tangible and intangible—to help you come up with an estate planning solution that offers maximum protection for your family’s particular situation and budget. Contact us today to get started. 

 

How and When to Talk to Your Kids About Money

Whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, you need to think about how (and when) you’ll talk with your children about money, whether they’re little kids, tweens, teens, or already adults.


The Wall Street Journal article “The Best Way for Wealthy Parents to Talk to Children About Family Money” offers guidelines for how and when “the money talk” should take place. Based on interviews with multiple financial experts, the article suggests these discussions should happen in three stages during the child’s lifetime.

Here, we’re showing you how each of these three stages apply to your family wealth as a whole, regardless of how much—or how little—money you have at the moment:

Tweens and teens

The tween years (ages 10-12) are a good time to start talking with your children about your family wealth. At this age, the discussion should be aimed at letting your children know that family wealth is not just the amount of money that your family has, but involves all of the family resources.

 

Time, energy, attention, and money (TEAM) are the resources that make up your family wealth. With this in mind, use one day over a coming weekend to create a Family Wealth Inventory with your tween or teen children. Inventory all of the family’s TEAM resources, along with other intangibles, such as values, insights, as well as stories and experiences you want considered as part of the Family Wealth bank.

This is an ideal time to tell them the family story, talking about how you and their other relatives worked your way to the family wealth you have now, how decisions have been made from one generation to the next regarding family wealth, and how you hope decisions will be made in the future.

Around ages 10 to 12, you can also start talking to your children about the fact that one day you won’t be here, your intentions surrounding what you plan to pass on to them (beyond just money) and how you plan to pass it on, as well as what they choose to do with the inheritance they’re receiving.

 

Again, the inheritance they’re receiving is not just the money you’re leaving—it also involves your family genetics, epigenetics, values, ancestry, connections, knowledge, and much more.

In their 20s
If you haven’t yet begun talking to your children about your family wealth, you should start now. And if you’ve already begun the conversations, make sure to continue talking to them during this important stage of their life.


Once they’ve moved out of the home, they need to begin thinking about their own family wealth, including setting up their own legal documents, so if something happens to them, you won’t get stuck in court or conflict. They also need to know whether you plan to offer them financial assistance during their lifetime, along with what the parameters of this assistance are and why you’ve set things up this way.

 

Additionally, this is an ideal time to start discussing your own plans for retirement and whether or not you’ll need any financial support from them later on in their life.

 

If you haven’t already shared your estate plan with your children—including where to find it, why you’ve made the decisions you’ve made, and introduced them to your family lawyer—this is the time to do that as well.

 

In their 30s and 40s
By their 30s, your children should be ready to be fully involved in your family wealth. This would be the perfect time to have a family meeting facilitated by us, if you haven’t done so already.
 

You can kick-start the talk by reading from a letter you’ve written that outlines the hopes you have for your family wealth, both now and in the future. Since you’ll likely be nearing or in retirement at this stage, it’s important that you eventually discuss the actual value of the family’s wealth and detail your wishes about passing it on. At this age, you never know how much time you have left to prepare your children to effectively manage the money you’ve spent your entire life accumulating.

 

By now, you definitely want your children to know if they should plan to provide financial support for you. At the same time, you may want to start looking at how you can pass on what you do have during your lifetime, instead of waiting until death, so you can invest in creating more family wealth with your children together.

We can not only help facilitate these discussions, we can also provide estate planning strategies to help your children become creators of more family wealth, instead of people who you might be afraid will squander what you’ve created. Indeed, we can help you set up structures that incentivize them to invest and grow their inheritance, rather than waste it. Contact us today to learn more.

Estate Planning Tips to Ensure Your Pets are Properly Cared For

It’s sad but true that many pets end up in shelters after their owner dies or becomes incapacitated. In fact, the Humane Society estimates that between 100,00 to 500,000 pets are placed in shelters each year for exactly this reason, and a large number of these animals are ultimately euthanized.

Whether we like it or not, the law considers pets to be nothing more than personal property just like cars, furniture, and electronic devices. In light of this cold reality, it’s vital that you provide for your pet’s future care through estate planning, so when you die or if you become incapacitated, your beloved friend won’t wind up in a shelter or worse.

The following tips offer helpful advice to ensure your faithful companion receives the best possible care when you’re no longer able to do it yourself.

Identify a new caregiver for your pet
Selecting a trustworthy caregiver is the first—and most important—step in protecting your pet(s) through estate planning. Many people assume their children, relatives, or friends will be suitable guardians, and these folks may even tell you as much in conversation. But the reality is, properly caring for most pets is a major commitment of time, emotion, and finances.

It’s best to come up with a list of potential candidates, and then have a frank talk with each of them, discussing the extent of care your pet requires and whether they have any personal issues (allergies, housing, other pets) that might prevent them from providing the necessary care.

If you don’t know any suitable caregivers, charitable groups, such as the Safe Haven® Surviving Pet Care Program, can provide for your pet in the event of your death or incapacity.

Get it in writing
Once you’ve chosen a guardian—along with one or two alternates in case something happens to your top choice—outline all of your pet’s care requirements, listing its health issues, dietary concerns, medications, etc. These requirements should be indicated within a properly drafted legal document to ensure that your wishes are properly carried out and enforceable.

As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can help you create a legally binding agreement detailing your pet’s specific needs, which can be easily added to your other estate planning documents.

Provide funding for your pet’s continued care
All pets have basic food, shelter, and medical needs, and these needs can be quite expensive, depending on the animal’s age and health. And if you’re like most pet owners, you probably want your pet to receive more than just the bare necessities, so it’s imperative that you leave enough money to cover all such expenses.

Be sure to not only provide clear, detailed instructions on how your pet should be taken care of in your estate plan, but also include the necessary funding to cover these costs. And be sure you think about all of your pet’s future needs, including any extra services—grooming, boarding, and walking services—when calculating these expenses.

Set up a pet trust
Because pet care can be quite complicated and costly, the best way to ensure your wishes are properly carried out is to set up a pet trust.

While it’s possible to leave care instructions and funding for your pet in a will, a will cannot guarantee the new caregiver will use the funds properly or even that they’ll care for your pet at all. Indeed, a person who’s left your pet in a will can simply drop the animal off at a local shelter and keep the money for themselves.

A pet trust, on the other hand, allows you to lay out detailed rules for exactly how the trust’s funds can be used. To ensure your wishes are accurately carried out, you should name someone other than the caregiver as trustee, so this person can manage the funds and make sure they’re only used as spelled out by the rules you’ve created. 

While leaving assets in a pet trust is fairly simple, creating a properly drafted trust that includes all of the necessary terms can be quite complex. Given this, you should work with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to be certain that all of the necessary elements are in place to ensure your pet will continue to receive the love and care it deserves if you aren’t around to do it. 
 

Choosing the Right Life Insurance Policy

While purchasing life insurance may seem pretty straightforward, it’s actually quite complex, especially with so many different types available.

In order to offer some clarity on the different types of policies out there, we’ve broken down the most popular kinds of life insurance here and discussed the pros and cons that come with each one. 

Term life insurance
Term life insurance is the simplest—and typically least expensive—type of coverage. Term policies are purchased for a set period of time (the term), and if you die during that time, your beneficiary is paid the death benefit.

Terms can vary widely—10, 15, 25, 30 years or longer—and if it’s a Level Term policy, the premium and death benefit remain the same throughout the duration. If you survive the term and want to retain coverage, you must re-qualify for a policy at your new age and health status.

In addition to Level Term, other variations include “Annual Renewable Term,” in which the death benefit is unchanged throughout the term, but the insurance is renewed annually, often with an increase in premiums. With a “Decreasing Term” policy, the death benefits decrease each year until they reach zero, but the premium remains the same.

Decreasing Term life insurance is often used to cover a mortgage, student loan, or other long-term debt, so the policy expires at the time the mortgage/debt is paid off.

Whole life insurance
Whole life, or permanent, insurance pays a death benefit whenever you die, no matter how long you live. With a whole life policy, both the death benefit and premium stay the same for your entire life span.

However, depending on when you purchase coverage, the premium can vary widely depending on how much the policy’s death benefit is worth. So, for example, purchasing whole life in your senior years can be extremely expensive and possibly not even available at all.

What’s more, your whole life policy premiums will be much higher than your term life insurance premiums because the insurance company knows the policy will pay out when you die, no matter how long you live.


Indeed, the premium for whole life policies can be among the most costly of all types of life insurance coverage, including similar types of “permanent” policies discussed below. This is simply the price paid for the guaranteed death benefit and a level premium.

Universal life insurance
Universal life is a variation on whole life—it covers you for your entire lifespan, but also contains a “cash-value” component. Rather than putting 100% of your premium toward your death benefit, part of your premium is put into a separate cash-value account that earns interest and is tax-deferred.

The insurance company invests the cash-value funds in various investment vehicles of its choice, and provided the market performs well, you can access those extra funds for things like paying the policy’s premiums, paying off debt, or supplementing your later-in-life fixed income. Some insurance companies will even let you take tax-free loans against the policy’s cash value.

That said, the cash-value account is set at an interest rate that can adjust to reflect the market’s current rates, so if the interest rate of the cash value account decreases to the minimum rate, your premium would need to increase to offset the account’s reduced value.

While universal life premiums are typically more costly than term policies, universal life also allows you to adjust the death benefit within certain guidelines. This added flexibility allows you to choose how much of one’s premium funds will go toward the death benefit and how much goes into the cash value, offering you the ability to adjust the death benefit as your financial circumstances change.

Variable universal life insurance

Variable universal life insurance is quite similar to normal universal life except that variable policies allow you to choose how your cash-value funds are invested, rather than the insurance company. This offers you more control over the cash-value investment and potentially higher returns.

However, if the invested cash-value funds perform poorly or the market tanks, your policy could be at risk. Given a major drop in the cash-value account investments, you may have to pay increased premiums just to keep the policy in force. Moreover, the fees and expenses associated with the cash value investments for variable policies may be much higher than you would pay if you simply invested the funds on your own.

Because understanding life insurance can be confusing, it’s best to get the advice of a trusted advisor before you meet with an insurance agent, who might try to talk you into more coverage than you need in order to earn a larger commission. By sitting down with us as your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can work with you and your insurance advisors to offer truly unbiased advice about which policy type is best for your family and life circumstances.

Contact us today, and we’ll walk you step-by-step through the different life insurance options and help you with your other legal, financial, and tax decisions to ensure your family is planned for and protected no matter what happens.

 

Estate Planning Best Practices Gleaned from Celebrity Deaths

Discussing death can be awkward, and many people would prefer just to ignore estate planning all together. However, ignoring—or even putting off—such planning can be a huge mistake, as these celebrity stories will highlight.

The next time one of your relatives tells you they don’t want to talk about estate planning, share these famous celebrities’ stories to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it’s uncomfortable.

The Marley Family Battle
You would think that with millions of dollars in assets—including royalties offering revenue for the indefinite future—at stake, more famous musicians would at least have a will in place. But sadly, you’d be wrong. Legendary stars like Bob Marley, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix failed to write down their wishes on paper at all.

Not having an estate plan can be a nightmare for your surviving family. Indeed, Marley’s heirs are still battling one another in court three decades later. If you do nothing else before you die, at least be courteous enough to your loved one’s to document your wishes and keep them out of court and out of conflict.

 
Paul Walker Died Fast and Furious at Just 40
While Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was just 40 when he died in a tragic car accident, he had enough forethought to implement some basic estate planning. His will left his $25 million estate to his teenage daughter in a trust and appointed his mother as her legal guardian until 18.

But isn’t 18 far too young for a child to receive an inheritance of any size? Walker would have been far better advised to leave his assets in an ongoing trust, with financial education built in to give his daughter her best shot at a life well lived, even without him in the picture.

Most inheritors, like lottery winners, are not properly educated about what to do after receiving an inheritance, so they often lose their inheritance within just a few years, even when it’s millions.

Indeed, none of us has any clue when we’ll die, only that it will happen, so no matter how young you are or how much money you have—and especially if you have any children—don’t put off estate planning for another day. You truly never know when it’ll be needed.


Heath Ledger Didn’t Update His Estate Planning
Even though actor Heath Ledger created a will shortly after becoming famous, he failed to update it for more than five years. The will left his entire fortune to his parents and sister, so when he died unexpectedly in 2008, his young daughter received nothing, as she hadn’t been added to the will. Fortunately, his parents made sure their granddaughter was provided for, but that might not always be the case.

Creating an estate planning strategy is just the start—be sure to regularly update your documents, especially following births, deaths, divorces, new marriages, acquiring new assets, or retiring. Many estate plans fail because most lawyers don’t have built-in systems for updating your estate plans, but we do—mostly because we don’t want this to happen to your family.


Paul Newman Cut Out His Daughters Too
Though it’s a good idea to regularly update your estate plan, be sure your heirs know exactly what your intentions are when making such updates, or your family might experience significant shock by not knowing why you did what you did.

The final update to Paul Newman’s will, which was made just a few months before his death in 2008, left his daughters with no ownership or control of Newman’s Own Foundation, his legendary charity associated with the Newman’s Own food brand. Prior versions of Newman’s will— and indeed his own personal assurances to his family—indicated they’d have membership on the foundation’s board following his death.

Instead, the final version of his will left control of the foundation to his business partner Robert Forrester. Some allege that during his final months, when Newman was mentally unstable, he was secretly persuaded to change his estate plan to leave control of the Newman’s Own brand and foundation to Forrester. Newman’s daughters are currently fighting Forrester in court over the rights they believe they’re entitled to receive.

While changes to your estate plan may seem perfectly clear to you, make sure your family is on the same page by clearly communicating your intentions. In fact, if you are making significant changes to your plan, and your children are adults, we often recommend a full family meeting to go over everything with all impacted parties, and we often facilitate such meetings for our clients.

Muhammad Ali Made His Wishes Clear
Boxing great Muhammad Ali wanted multi-day festivities to be held in his honor, including a large festival, an Islamic funeral, and a dazzling public memorial at the KFC headquarters in Louisville, KY. Given such elaborate plans, he worked with his lawyers for years, ensuring his wishes would be properly carried out.

While you probably won’t need a multi-day festivity to celebrate your life, you may have wishes regarding how your life should be memorialized when you pass or how your care should be handled if you’re incapacitated. If you eat a special diet or want certain friends by your side while incapacitated, you have to make these wishes clearly known in writing or they very well might not happen. At the same time, you should spell out exactly how you want your remains cared for and what kind of memorial service, if any, you prefer.

As your lawyer, we can help ensure your final wishes are carried out exactly how you want. But more importantly, we’ll help protect your family and keep them out of conflict and out of court in the event of your death or incapacitation. With us on your side, you’ll have access to the exact same estate planning strategies and protections that A-List celebrities use, so don’t wait another day—contact us now to get started!